Jury Awards $991,000 Over Railroad Worker’s On-The Job Back Injury

Back injuries are among the most serious conditions railroad workers can face. In a recent case in New York, the Long Island Railroad was hit with a $991,000 verdict after a signal worker claimed a physical therapy program exacerbated his on-the-job back injury.

A report on Law 360 stated the jury in Manhattan hit the railroad with the verdict after finding it was negligent in putting signal worker Daniel Curran into a physical therapy program.

It was described as a “work hardening” program and was said to have made his on-the-job back injury worse.

U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos denied the railroad’s motion for summary judgment against Curran last year.

However, the jury declined to find the Long Island Railroad negligent over a problem with rail buckling that it experienced in 2012. Curran claimed the on-the-job back injury occurred during an emergency repair of the lines.

The jury decided the railroad should not have pushed the signal worker to take part in physical therapy that was beyond his limits.

This “work hardening” therapy delayed Curran’s recovery, his attorney Marc Wietzke of Flynn & Wietzke PC, told the jury.

He said there was no timeline for recovery and it made little sense to push the railroad workers so hard given his existing on-the-job back injury.
Lawyers for the railroad indicated they will appeal the verdict. They challenged the accusations of negligence.

Curran was paid about $360,000 during the time he has not been working. The railroad is able to offset any damages he ultimately recovers by that amount.

Back injuries are common among railroad workers and they can be career ending. Recently. We noted how poor seating on trains is causing back injuries among workers,

More than a decade ago, a report by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers said executives of railroad companies make decisions focused on the “bottom line” while the crews who sit on chairs have little say.

There was little incentive for the railroads to tackle the high level of vibration workers face on poor seating.

Studies have repeatedly pointed to the ongoing pain suffered by railroad employees forced to sit on these poorly designed seats.

If you have suffered an on-the-job back injury working on the railroad, our FELA injury lawyers want to hear from you. Please call us at (866) 455-6657.

John Cooper

 

Jury Awards $7.5 Million to Railroad Worker Who Developed Leukemia from Creosote Exposure

Railroad workers are exposed to many harmful chemicals in their work on the tracks. A jury recently awarded $7.5 million to a man from Edwardsville in Illinois who developed leukemia after handling creosote soaked railroad ties for Chicago & North Western Railway.

James Brown worked on the railroad for more than three decades. He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and claimed the diagnosis was caused by the failure of his employer to provide protective equipment.

Brown’s attorney, David Damick filed a suit six years ago against Union Pacific Railroad, for whom Brown worked for 13 years. He alleged most of the exposure and alleged negligence occurred during the 18 years that Brown worked for Union Pacific’s predecessor, Chicago & North Western Railway, stated a report in the Intelligencer.

Damick said his client was repeatedly exposure to harmful creosote over a period of 18 years.

He argued the railroad knew about the dangers of creosote decades ago but failed to act. In 1986, the railroad received a notice from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the dangers of creosote and benzene exposure.

CNW knew about the dangers of creosote and benzene exposure as early as 1986 when they received a notice from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It instructed the railroad to comply with certain safety measures.

Creosote exposure proved harmful to railroad worker
Railroad worker was exposed to creosote

The jury heard the railroad failed to comply with the notice. It did not provide employees with gloves, respirators, goggles, or other protective equipment.

Brown started his work as laborer for CNW in 1976. He frequently loaded and unloaded creosote-soaked railroad ties.

The Dangers of Creosote

Brown often returned home after work covered from head to toe in wet creosote, he testified.

He was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS in 2008. The disease subsequently developed into acute myeloid leukemia, or AML.

During the trial, several medical experts testified that even the smallest exposure to creosote, benzene and carbolineum can cause AML.

The defense claimed that the railroad worker’s exposure to those toxins was in insufficient amounts to cause AML.

The railroads fight cases like this hard. Mr. Brown’s was no exception. Attorneys for Union Pacific questioned the science linking creosote exposure to cancer. They tried to exonerate the giant railroad company on the grounds Brown was employed by CNW when the exposure occurred.

However, the jury in Madison County came close to awarding Brown the $8 million he was requesting when it agreed to a $7.5 million verdict.

Many railroad workers are exposed to harmful chemicals and substances in their line of work. If you are harmed on the railroad or injured, please call me at (866) 455-6657.

John Cooper

 

 

Railroad Cancer Lawsuits Lead to Multi-Million Dollar Pay Outs

Railroad workers were exposed to hazardous chemicals in their work for decades. In recent months, a series of railroad cancer lawsuits has been filed across America.

The latest to hit the headlines was brought by a widow from South Carolina. She is suing CSX Transportation Inc., claiming negligence on behalf of the railroad. The lawsuit says  CSX took insufficient safety measures to prevent her late husband’s death.

Rutha Frieson, a special administrator of the estate of Marvin Frieson, filed a complaint at the end of 2016 in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois, reported the Madison St. Clair Record. The lawsuit claims CSX failed to provide a safe place to work for Frieson, a railroad worker who died after developing stomach cancer that metastasized to colon cancer.

The lawsuit claims Frieson was exposed to asbestos-containing materials during his work with CSX. It claims the exposure caused him to develop stomach cancer, ultimately leading to his death in November 2014.

CSX case is latest in series of railroad cancer lawsuits
CSX is sued in railroad cancer lawsuit

Frieson’s widow claims CSX failed to provide a safe working environment for her husband when he was a railroad worker.

She claims she suffered serious losses as a result of her husband’s death. The plaintiff claims CSX Transportation Inc. failed to provide adequate and safe equipment to protect Frieson from inhaling dangerous asbestos fibers. She claims CSX failed to provide warnings and instructions on how to use materials that contained asbestos fibers.

Railroad Cancer Lawsuits Resulted in Major Verdicts

Last June, a railroad cancer lawsuit was filed by Clarence Mayberry. He claims he was exposed to solar radiation and creosote from 1968-2009. He said a lack of protective equipment from Union Pacific caused him to develop basal cell carcinomas on his head and neck.

Last September, a jury in Madison County awarded $7.5 million to James Brown. The railroad worker was diagnosed with cancer after years of exposure to toxic chemicals, creosote, lead and degreasing solvents on the railroad.

Brown was diagnosed with myeloid leukemia in 2008. In December 2010, he filed a lawsuit under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) blaming Union Pacific and Chicago & North Western Railway (CNW), for failing to give him protective equipment.

In 2014, two cases of hazardous exposure to chemicals in New Jersey were settled for $2.05 million.

As a FELA injury lawyer with decades of experience in representing injured railroad workers, I have seen the terrible impacts dangerous chemicals and substances can have on workers.

In many cases, workers were given inadequate protection from deadly substances. Diesel, coal dust, creosote, and asbestos on the railroads can cause cancer and other incurable diseases.

If you believe you have grounds to file a railroad cancer lawsuit, call us today at (866) 455-6657.

Poor Seating is Identified as a Cause of Railroad Worker Injuries

As a railroad worker injury lawyer, I’ve helped engineers, conductors and other crew members who suffered very serious injuries. We read a lot about derailments, explosions or chemical spills. However, poor seating causes many injuries on the railroad.

The problem is not new. Back in 1998, a Federal Railroad Administration study made a clear link between poor seating and injuries. The investigators noted the issue is well documented.

The study stated:

“Engineers complain of lower back, neck and shoulder pains related to sitting posture.”

A disconnect between the seating and the requirements of engineers to operate equipment exacerbates the problem.

Poor seating on trains leads to injuries

Poor seating may not sound as serious as derailments, moving parts or other hazards that can cause very serious injuries and deaths on the railroad.

But workers are constantly on their seats. The vibrations can impact their backs and cause very serious injuries over a period of time.

Poor Seating Issues on Trains Go Back Decades

We should not be surprised about why seating is so bad on trains. In 2003, a report by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers said executives focused on the “bottom line” make decisions on the railroads. Crews have little say.

There appeared to be little incentive for the railroads to tackle the level of vibration workers face on poor seating.

Studies have repeatedly pointed to the pain suffered by railroad employees who are forced to sit on these inadequate seats.

The Association of American Railroads’, Locomotive Cab Seat Evaluation in 1980 looked at the seating on trains on every major railroad in the country.

It found 40 percent of employees reported back pain from riding on the trains and almost 25 percent reported neck pain.

Ongoing pain is a warning of future injury. The unwillingness of the railroads to address such a fundamental problem over a span of at least four decades is alarming.

When poor seating leads to back injuries, workers may lose their jobs on the railroads. They may also have ground to sue their employers under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). If you were injured on the railroads, please call us at (866) 455-6657.

 

Oklahoma Worker Claims He was Terminated After a Railroad Injury

If you suffer an injury on the railroad, you should not expect your employer to be supportive. Railroads can be ruthless when workers get injured. In a recent case, an Oklahoma man alleged he was terminated after a railroad injury.

A report in SETexasRecord stated Chad W. Burleson filed a complaint on Oct. 5 in the Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas.

Burleson alleges that Polivka International Co. Inc. and Kansas City Southern Railway Co. were in violation of the Federal Railroad Safety Act.

The complaint relates to a work-related injury Burleson sustained on Feb. 18, 2014. He was working for Polivka as a contractor at a Kansas City Southern Railway Co. job site. His injury required medical attention and leave of absence, the lawsuit states. Just over a week later on Feb. 26, 2014, he was terminated from his employment.

Your rights if you are terminated after a railroad injury.
Cooper Hurley’s book about injuries on the railroad

The former railroad worker is suing Polivka International Co. Inc. and Kansas City Southern Railway Co. over the termination.

He is represented by attorneys Lawrence P. Wilson and W. Mark Lanier.

Terminated After a Railroad Injury – You Are Not Alone

As an experienced railroad accident lawyer, I hear of many cases in which workers who report injuries are victimized and even terminated after a railroad injury.

In 2013, Norfolk Southern Railway was ordered to pay $1.1 million for terminating three railroad employees who reported injuries.

Investigations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found the three men would not have lost their jobs had they not reported injuries.

The terminations go to the heart of the safety culture on the railroads. In 2014, a BNSF railroad worker in Washington State claimed he was fired because he took the time to test his train’s brakes.

This incident was even more alarming because the train in question was carrying propane, butane and carbon monoxide, hazardous materials that could cause serious injuries or deaths to workers and residents if a train derailed.

BNSF was accused by a number of workers and former workers of putting profits and speed above safety on the railroad.

If you have been injured on the railroad, you should be very careful about what you do or say to your employer. Call an experienced FELA accident attorney as soon as possible after your injury at (866) 455-6657.

 

Worker Killed in Rail Yard in Montana Previously Sued Railroad Over Conditions

A sad recent case of a worker who was killed in a rail yard in Montana, highlights some of the dangers inherent on the railroad.

Richard Schmitz of Missoula was killed in the spring in Montana Rail Link’s yard in his hometown.

Remote control is a hazard in rail yards
The rail yard is a hazardous place

Media reports stated Missoula county officials concluded his death in a train collision was accidental.

The coroner said the cause of death was blunt-force trauma, and the circumstances of the collision remain under investigation. Schmitz died when a train collided with a smaller vehicle at the yard.

Investigations are underway from the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

A report by NBC Montana revealed the railroad worker had filed a lawsuit in 2011 claiming unsafe practices in his work and repetitive work using unsafe tools led to chronic pain and injuries that would impact his future.

An initial complaint from Schmitz alleged that MRL “(knew) or should have known that the job tasks, tools and equipment assigned to Plaintiff (Schmitz) would, over time, result in musculoskeletal injuries to the body as a whole, including his left foot.”

The lawsuit was withdrawn in 2014, reported NBC and most of the suits were settled out of court. MRL representatives said Schmitz voluntarily dropped his litigation, NBC reported.

The existence of a previous lawsuit before the death of this worker highlights some of the dangers that railroad workers face in rail yards.

Rail Yard Hazards

I have noted the extreme dangers associated with some rail yards here on this blog.

Remote control technology has been used in rail yards for many years, but there is some evidence that it merely exacerbates dangers.

This technology means only one person is routinely in control of a train. It’s now the norm in most of America’s rail yards but doubts linger about whether it’s made yards any safer.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, a railroaders union, has opposed the use of remote control in yards on the grounds that the technology was unsafe and untested.

In the past, I have handled several Federal Employers’ Liability Act cases involving CSX railroad workers who were injured during remote control operations. When railroad workers are hurt, they are often injured in yards. The arrival of remote control seems to be more about railroads cutting their costs rather than seeking to improve the safety of yard workers.

If you have been injured in a rail yard or have lost a loved one please call me at  (866) 455-6657.

John Cooper

Remote Control Operators May Increase Dangers in Rail Yards

Remote control technology has been used in rail yards for many years but I remain to be convinced that it provides optimum safety for workers.

This technology means only one person is often in control of a train. It’s now the norm in most rail yards but there’s some skepticism about whether it’s made yards any safer.

Remote control is a hazard in rail yards
Rail yards are hazardous places

Take the death of Melinda Carter, a 37-year-old conductor who was killed at CSX’s larger Riverdale yard in Chicago in 2010. She was killed when she was run over by a locomotive she was conducting.

Then there’s 33-year-old Jared Boehlke, who lost his life in 2009 when he stepped between two train cars in the CSX Selkirk yard in New York.

I noted that CSX recently updated its rules about remote operation. The amendment that was enacted in 2015 reads:

CSX Updates Remote Control Guidance

THE EMPLOYEE DIRECTING THE MOVEMENT AND/OR THE PRIMARY REMOTE CONTROL OPERATOR OF REMOTE CONTROL MOVEMENTS MUST:

  1. REMAIN AT THE DESIGNATED PLACE OF SAFETY UNTIL THE MOVEMENT IS STOPPED EXCEPT IN CASES OF EMERGENCY, AND
  2. MAINTAIN VISUAL CONTACT WITH A PORTION OF THE EQUIPMENT WHILE MOVEMENT IS OCCURRING.

The amended wording certainly appears to be a response to a concern about the hazards of using the remote system, even though it’s been used for more than a decade.

Back in 2001, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) gave the go ahead for major U.S. railroads to employ remote control operators (RCOs). The operators are belt pack devices that move unmanned engines.

Rail unions were skeptical from the start and remain alarmed. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers opposed the use of RCOs on the grounds that the technology was unsafe and untested.

In the past, I have handled several FELA cases involving CSX railroad workers who were hurt during remote control operations. When railroad workers are injured, they are often hurt in rail yards. The arrival of RCOs seems to be more about railroads cutting costs rather than seeking to improve safety at yards.

If you or a loved one has been hurt in a rail yard, it’s important to know your FELA rights before your employer tries to take advantage of you. Call me for a free and confidential consultation today at (866) 455-6657.

Railroads Delay Positive Train Control Safety Measures Again

john-web-imageBy John Cooper, FELA Accident Lawyer

I have written before about Positive Train Control, a system that may have prevented the terrible Amtrak crash in Philadelphia last year and would save many railroad workers from injuries.

PTC can automatically slow or stop trains to avoid collisions and derailments and protect areas of track where crews are working. The only problem with the system is the fact America’s big railroads are dragging their heels when it comes to implementing it.

PTC is intended to prevent serious crashes like this Amtrak wreck
PTC is intended to prevent serious crashes like this Amtrak wreck

Three of the biggest railroads in North America – Canadian National Railway, CSX and Norfolk Southern say they won’t meet a 2018 deadline for the installation of this key piece of railroad safety technology, reported Progressive Railroading.

A list provided from the Federal Railroad Administration reveals these three railroads say they won’t be ready to install PTC until 2020. A number of smaller commuter railroads in Illinois, Florida, Massachusetts and Texas also said they will miss the deadline.

Amtrak is already operating a version of the technology on its tracks but it’s far from comprehensive because most of Amtrak’s operations outside the Northeast are on track owned by freight railroads. Three freight railroads said they would be able to meet the 2018 deadline.

The 2018 date itself represents a postponement of the new safety measures. At the end of last year, Congress extended an original deadline of Dec. 31, 2015, to the end of 2018, as railroads threatened to shut down operations. The new legislation contains provisions, under certain circumstances, that railroads would have until 2020 to implement the safety technology.

However, after Congress approved the later date, FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg told railroads they should not assume they have until 2020 to install and begin using PTC on their networks. As long as years ago I was warning the big railroads were backsliding on PTC.

It has taken many tragedies to force the hand of legislators. Congress opted for positive train control in the wake of one of the nation’s worst train accidents in 2008, when a Metrolink commuter train hit a freight train head-on near Los Angeles in California, leaving 25 people dead and injuring more than 100.

We frequently see accidents in rail yards that injure or kill workers that could be avoided if PTC was in place. If you have been injured on the railroad, call me at (866) 455-6657.

Hand Brakes on Freight Trains Are a Cause of Worker Injuries

john-web-imageBy John Cooper, FELA Injury Lawyer

A common but little-known cause of injuries to railroad workers is the application and release of the heavy duty hand brakes that are found on freight trains.

Recently, the Federal Railroad Administration published a strategy intended to reduce the number of injuries caused by hand brakes by bringing in electrically driven hand brakes on trains to replace manual ones.

“There is a need to eliminate train crew injuries that occur during the application and releasing of freight car hand brakes,” the document stated. The report said electrically driven hand brakes reduce the risk of operator injuries and the need for workers to go in-between and climb rail cars. They also reduce potential damage to lading, track, vehicles and bridges and are likely to save railroads money in the long term.

hand-brake

At present railroad workers are required to apply 125 pounds of force to properly apply a manual hand brake. It’s a level of exertion that often leads to physical injuries. The administration also pointed out that brakes are frequently left unreleased on train cars, leading to slid flats or damaged wheels.

The issue was explored in a research paper Forces Applied to Large Hand Wheels by Jeffrey Woldstad, Mark McMulkin and Carolyn A. Bussi at Virginia Tech. The study looked at the use of large hand wheels in a number of industries including chemical plants and other industrial workplaces in situations that resulted in “constricted and awkward work postures.”

Research on the railroad suggests about 1.5 percent of all employees suffered lost-time injuries and over 6 percent of injuries to yardmen were associated with the operation of hand brakes.

Given the fact a force of 125 pounds is required to operate vertical hand brakes and as much as 220 pounds is needed for horizontal hand brakes, there are some real questions about whether workers can apply this much force without getting injured.

When railroads place unreasonable demands on workers, leading to injuries, there may be grounds for lawsuits under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). There have also been cases in which a failure to maintain hand brakes and other items of equipment on the railroad, results in injuries. The railroad has a duty to provide a safe working environment to its employees.

If you have been injured operating a hand brake on the railroad, you may have grounds to file a FELA claim. Call us for a free consultation at (866) 455-6657.

BNSF Worker Disciplined for Not Reporting Eye Injury For Three Days

john-web-imageBy John Cooper, FELA Injury Lawyer

Imagine a scenario in which you hurt your eye at work. You seek treatment in the hope your injury will clear. When it does not get better you seek medical advice and report the injury three days later.

Then how would you feel if your employer placed you on probation for the delay in reporting the injury? It seems extreme but the big railroads do this sort of thing all the time. In a recent case in Kansas City, a railroader was awarded thousands of dollars for emotional distress.

BNSF2

The railroader, in this case was working for BNSF as a member of a traveling gang. He had worked for the railroad for six years when in 2012 he suffered an eye injury while on duty. He flushed his eye with water but the pain continued. He saw a doctor three days after the injury when he was told there was a piece of steel in his eye.

FELA Reporter noted that BNSF started disciplinary proceedings against the worker based on the delay in seeking medical treatment. He was placed on probation for a year. He sued under FELA and the Federal Railroad Safety Act. The railroad denied liability, claiming the worker violated established safety rules by failing to report his injury when it occurred.

The case went to trial when a jury granted the worker $58,240 for emotional distress. He then sought attorney fees, as well as costs and expenses. The railroad fought the award of costs, pointing out the worker had three attorneys. They said his lawyers had vague communications with each other.

Last year Kansas City Federal Court added $158,475 in attorney fees and $14,923.73 in costs and expenses to the jury award. The court said the FELA claim was for an injury on the job and the FRSA claim related to reporting an on-the-job injury. However, both claims were related and the facts were similar.

The defense said the plaintiff claimed for 3.4 hours of vague communication. The court ruled this was not an unreasonable amount of time. The injured worker was represnted by Jeff Dingwall, Charles Garella and Erica Mynarich.

This case again demonstrates a railroad being unreasonable and punishing a worker because he was injured. It never fails to amaze me how the big railroads will turn around and hit workers with misconduct charges for how they report their injuries. Likewise, whistlebowers who report dangerous conditions are punished. If you are a railroad worker who was injured anywhere in the country, call us at (866) 455-6657 for a free consultation.